Depression in women is a common problem – much more common than many people realize. It’s a fact that women are much more likely to be treated for depression during their lifetime than men, and some estimates put the proportion of women who will experience depression at some point in their life as high as 1 in 4.
The signs of depression are unique between women and men, and can even differ a great deal between individual women.
However, most women will experience the classic symptoms of depression in the form of ‘blue moods’ – extended periods of sadness, loss of interest in work or fun activities, and general feelings of hopelessness.
There are also acute forms of depression which relate specifically to pregnancy and childbirth, which may manifest their own unique symptoms.
Infertility and menopause can also be linked to depression in women.
In this article we’ll take a wide view of women and depression, identifying some of the general signs to keep an eye out for.
We’ll also discuss the more specific forms of depression which relate to certain life experiences that only women go through, such as childbirth and menopause. We’ll also take a look at how depression in women is treated and how depression can be dealt with and overcome in the long run.
General Symptoms of Depression in Women
Suicide rates for depressed women peak in the 20s, although proportionally women are at lower risk of suicide than men who suffer depression. Still, this is a risk in severe cases.
To identify possible depression in yourself or someone else, look for any of the following symptoms:
- Low moods – this can mean anything from sadness to a feeling of helplessness or powerlessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Self-harming actions
- Feeling excessively tired or lacking energy
- Feeling guilty, either about a particular event or for no apparent reason
- Loss of interest in what are usually pleasurable activities, including sex
- Loss of focus or memory lapses
- Change in sleeping patterns (both insomnia or excessive sleep can be warning signs)
Symptoms Have to Be Present for a Longer Period of Time for a Diagnosis to Be Made
The presence of any of these symptoms on its own does not necessarily mean the sufferer has depression.
Usually a clinical depression diagnosis will only be made when a cluster of symptoms has been present, either constantly or intermittently, for an extended period of time (two years according to most standard methods of diagnosis).
It is Recommended to Get More Than One Medical Opinion
This is why it’s important to consult medical professionals before taken any treatment action. It’s preferable to get at least two medical opinions if possible, as assessments of depression symptoms can differ from doctor to doctor (even if they are working from the same diagnosis criteria).
The Difference between Depression in Women and Depression in Men
Whereas men will often channel their depression into anger or agitation, women tend to suffer from an inward-looking depression. They tend to feel sad a lot of the time and associate their down feelings with something they personally have done. In this way women tend to look at their condition as something they have brought on themselves.
Depression in women is often coupled with shying away from social interaction, whereas men may deliberately seek conflict as a result of their depression.
Women also have a tendency to use food as a way to deal with depression, more so than men. This can often lead to a ‘downward spiral,’ as self-medicating with food leads to weight gain, which leads to a decline in the woman’s body image and a deeper depression as a result.
Depression and Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time of huge emotional upheaval for many women. As most people know, there are huge changes to body chemistry throughout this time and there are also usually external events going on that can put extreme pressure on a woman’s already-stressed body.
If the pregnancy is unplanned, the risk of depression may be even higher since this creates an added element of stress.
For the most part, it is hormonal changes during pregnancy which trigger depression. Often a woman who has suffered depression previously or who has a history of it in her family will succumb once these hormonal changes start kicking in.
Often it can be very confusing to feel symptoms of depression during pregnancy, since pregnancy is something which is so commonly conveyed in popular culture as being a time of joy.
Some women start to feel guilty about the fact that they don’t feel like the exuberant mother they see on the movie screen.
But in reality, pregnancy depression is quite common and normal (affecting roughly 10-20% of pregnant women, according to the American Pregnancy Association).
If you feel thee symptoms, simply consult your doctor about the best course of action and he or she will prescribe a treatment which may include medication, or simply some lifestyle changes.
Infertility Depression in Women
On the flipside of pregnancy depression is infertility depression which can be the result of the natural end of fertility (through menopause) or through a genetic or illness-related problem which causes a woman to become prematurely infertile.
It’s often a huge shock to the system when a woman is told she is unable to conceive a child by natural means. Many women attach part of their identity to the idea of having children one day, and when they are told the news that they will never give birth, that identity is suddenly broken down.
In addition to this psychological trauma, there may be body changes happening that alter body chemistry (for example, if the infertility comes as the result of a disease).
Some women are able to recover from their depression by making use of new technology in order to conceive a baby through a surrogate mother. Some procedures allow for a child to be born which contains the genetic material from both parents – others will allow at least the father’s genetic material to be combined with a donor egg.
This will depend on whether the infertility is related to the woman’s eggs themselves or some other aspect of her reproductive organs.
Natural Healing Is Tied to Rebuilding the Personal Identity
While most standard depression medications can be used to treat infertility depression, often the process of healing naturally is tied to rebuilding personal identity.
In order to truly recover from infertility depression, a woman will need to ‘unhook’ from the identity she had previously built up which centered around her role as a future mother, and find new ways to create a meaningful identity for herself. Even if the option of artificial conception using a surrogate mother is still on the table, it is worthwhile for a woman with infertility depression to find new paths to meaning in her life beyond having children.
Menopause and Depression in Women: Often a Combination of Low Self Image and Hormonal Changes
In many cases, a woman going through menopause has already had children – but her identity may still be very closely linked to her role as a mother or the image of being a ‘young’ woman – young as defined by being able to conceive.
The onset of menopause can be interpreted by some women as their bodies saying, ‘This is not your primary role anymore’ or ‘You’re not as attractive as you used to be’ – and again, that can lead to a negative self image which again may lead to depression.
But there are also hormonal and chemical changes going on in the body at this time, as well as a range of physical symptoms that can aggravate depression. Procedures like a hysterectomy can bring on depression almost instantly as a result of the change in estrogen levels.
All of the common symptoms of depression in women – things like changes in sleeping patterns, loss of focus, memory lapses and so on – can come as a result of depression.
It can be hard to distinguish between symptoms of menopause itself and symptoms of menopausal depression, but it’s not uncommon for the depression to persist long after menopause itself has passed.
Again, the correct thing to do is consult a doctor who understands your recent medical history.
Post-natal depression – otherwise known as post-partum depression – is a form of depression which occurs after a pregnant woman has delivered her baby. It can be particularly prevalent in women who suffer a miscarriage or stillborn delivery, although it can also affect women who deliver perfectly healthy, live babies. Again, the depression can be brought on partly by a change in body chemistry and partly by the psychological effects of literally ‘parting’ with the new child physically. Let’s take a look at some of the specific symptoms and signs of post partum depression.
Signs of Post Partum Depression
There is often a strong element of feeling alienated and withdrawn from contact with other people, sometimes characterized as a feeling than no one else understands what you are currently going through.
Feeling of emptiness and exhaustion are also common parts of post-natal depression. Anger can also manifest as a symptom, although this is less common and usually happens in small bursts.
Why Do Some Women Develop Post-Natal Depression While Others Don’t?
It’s not possible to predict with 100% accuracy which mothers will suffer depression or exactly what the cause may be in any given case.
However some behaviors or genetic tendencies can influence the risk level of a woman.
For example, a history of depression, both in her own life or in her family, can indicate a higher risk that a pregnant woman is likely to suffer from post partum depression after giving birth.
Being a Single Mom Is another Risk Factor
Women who are attempting to raise their new child on their own are often at greater risk of sinking into depression, as they struggle to meet the challenges of caring for an infant without sufficient support.
If you are a new mother attempting to raise a child alone, it’s recommended that you seek help immediately, even if you aren’t currently suffering depression symptoms. Signs of depression can creep in slowly and are difficult to identify in yourself – they can go unnoticed for long periods if you have an isolated lifestyle.
What can you do to seek help as a single mother?
Family and friends are always a good first port of call – if you feel resistance towards asking them for help, recognize that this is a common symptom of depression in women.
Alternatively, there are organizations that exist specifically to help women raise new babies and often they can provide extra support to a woman trying to raise a new child on her own. Often simply knowing you have a support structure to turn to is enough to relieve a lot of the stress and anxiety that can create a downward spiral of depression.
Post partum depression also tends to be more prevalent in low-income households. If you’re suffering financial pressures, again it’s wise to pluck up the courage to turn to friends and family for help if possible, or seek extra government assistance.
Most developed countries offer some form of extra financial support for new mothers facing economic difficulties – especially single mothers.
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